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Contributed Article
Tractors and the City Boy
by Ken

A few years back I came to the conclusion that city life wasn’t for me. The houses so close together you could hear the neighbors fight, traffic so heavy speed limit signs meant nothing. So I started looking for the ultimate country setting. After many months I found the perfect place, off the beaten path, up a private ½ mile drive, old stone house which has stood the test of time, out buildings which haven’t stood the test of time, trees, birds, rabbits, and snakes. This is the place! Bought it and moved in!

Thought I had everything I needed to maintain and fix up the property. Heck, I had my Craftsman riding mower, what else would I need. All I had to do was mow, tear down old buildings, pull out old fence, put up new fence, clean up old stuff the last guy left laying around, yep the old Craftsman would do the job. I had that Craftsman doing things it was never meant to do, but I soon found out there were a lot of things the Craftsman wouldn’t do. Time to buy my first tractor!

Not knowing anything about tractors I set out to find one. Heck, everyone out here in the country has a tractor, should be easy to find one. Looked in the local paper and saw many advertised, didn’t understand the models but knew by the prices these weren’t the ones for me. Watched along the roadsides in my travels to see if anyone had any for sale, found nothing that way! One day while driving through a small town north of me I passed an old hardware store, you know the kind that has a little bit of everything including old wood floors and a big old pot belly stove to heat it with, and sitting outside were two old tractors with For Sale signs on them. I stopped and looked at them, I knew they were older. It was Sunday and the store was closed so I couldn’t even find out how much he wanted for them. Went home with those tractors on my mind and they stayed on my mind for weeks to come. One Saturday morning I drove back to the little town and by the hardware store. Both tractors were gone! I went in the store and meet the nicest man I ever meet, I asked about the tractors expecting to hear they were sold. He said he had moved them in the shop in the back of the store and I was welcome to look at them. Sure enough there they sat. As I walked around them looking and dreaming I started asking what must have been some pretty stupid questions. I could see they were made by Ford but had no idea what model they were. What does this do? How does that work? Will this thing do this for me and so on and so on? After taking about an hour of this poor guy’s time, I became the owner of a 1948 Ford 8N. Happy and cheerful I headed home to inform my wife that we are now tractor owners and await delivery later in the day. He said he would bring it down after he went and took care of his cattle. I couldn’t wait! Later in the day there he was with MY 8N on a trailer. He unloaded it, gave me a quick course, and with a smile he went back to his hardware store, probably smiling cause I paid too much! I didn’t care, I owned a tractor!

You know a tractor isn’t much good if you don’t have those things called implements. The half mile driveway needs work, bought a box blade, grass needs cut, bought a brush hog, round bales need to be moved, bought that thing, post holes need dug, bought an auger, and a few other things called implements, not to mention the over riding clutch for the mower. Glad someone told me I needed that!

As I began to use my 8N I soon found out what a light front end is. Mowing with that big brush hog sometimes caused a lack of steering, as did dragging big old stuff around at times. But not to worry I was happy with my first tractor! One day the old 8N started to run bad. I messed with her and messed with her till I decided she needed a tune up! A tune up, I can handle that! Off to the Ford tractor dealer I went and bought a tune up kit. Got home and went at it. Plugs, plug wires nothing to it. Points, well that’s a different story. My 8N had the distributor on the front of the block, you know, right behind the radiator. No problem, a little tight but I can get in there. Got the old points out without to much trouble then started to try and put the new ones in. It’s a good thing I don’t live in the city anymore cause the neighbors would have heard me a block away, all those words you’re not suppose to use coming out of my mouth at high volume. Things weren’t going as well as I had hoped. Guess the only way to do this is to pull the radiator. I did, I pulled the radiator and knocked a hole in it. Darn! Took radiator to shop to get it fixed and put the new points in while it was gone. Got the radiator back and very, very carefully put it back in. Started her up and she purred like a kitten. Jumped on and took her for a spin. About 500 yards from the barn she starts spitting and bucking, worse than before. Oh Crap! Limped her back to the barn and messed with her some more. Understand at this point I have well over a hundred dollars in this simple tune up, I am not a happy person. New plugs, wires, cap, points, new everything, what’s wrong? As I walked around her thinking just that, new everything, I notice one part I didn’t change. A fuel filter was added to the fuel line sometime in her previous life, guess I’ll pick one up and try that. Picked one up the next day and replaced the old one, started her up and she ran just fine! Never did tell my wife all it needed was a $1.49 fuel filter! I continued to use her for sometime, but always knew she wasn’t really big enough to do the things I wanted to do.

One day I was at the Ford place again to pick up some pins or something and outside sat two bigger tractors, not real big, but bigger than my 8N. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked about them. One was a Massey Furgenson, the other a David Brown. The Massey looked like it had been rode hard and put away wet, the David Brown looked like it had been cared for pretty good over the years. Remember, all I know about tractors is an 8N is not the easiest thing to tune up! I had at least heard the name Massey Ferguson, never heard of David Brown, there are so many different makes and models! Sales guy said the David Brown was owned by a guy who had two tractors, they had done quite a bit of work on her over the last year including a new clutch, she is in pretty good shape (what else would a sales guy say). He said the guy that owned it traded both the David Brown and the Massey in on a new cab model Ford. We talked awhile and before long I had traded my 8N in on the David Brown! Yes, I thought, a real tractor! This one (the David Brown) had a diesel engine, power steering, a 12 volt battery, live PTO and more power than I should ever need! Plus it’s 20 some years newer than my old 8N. That very same afternoon the David Brown 780 was delivered and the 8N picked up! Wow! Now I own a real tractor!

As time went on I began to realize the name David Brown wasn’t recognized by very many people. People would see her and say never heard of a David Brown. I didn’t care, this tractor did what I wanted without giving me any back talk. Since nobody had heard the name David Brown, I thought I’d see what I could find on the Internet. I did some searches and found Sam Kennedy’s web page. If you don’t know, Sam is a David Brown collector and a wealth of information. I found some other information out there to. I now knew I had a different tractor. Not an antique, but instead what appeared to be a fairly rare tractor. I thought, this is good and bad, rare is nice to have, but rare also means parts are hard to find. As I continued to search the web I came across Yesterday’s Tractor and learned even more, ordered a manual and found the Case/David Brown forums, another wealth of information! There I met Elmer, yet another David Brown man with a ton of information. After gathering as much information as I could, I became hooked. I wanted to fix up my old David Brown 780, no I wanted to bring her back to showroom condition, heck, why not, could be fun, I told myself. I knew enough about them that I felt a good looking, good running David Brown 780 would be something I could be proud of!

I started to make a list of fixes and repairs I needed to do. The tachometer didn’t work, the fuel gauge always shows ¼ tank, one of the warning lights didn’t work, small fuel leak somewhere around the injector pump, front wheel bearings a little loose, needs front tires, and of course the white paint was old and faded. Nothing big, a bunch of small stuff I could tackle myself. Since she is mechanically sound I could work on her now and then while I still used her as I needed. I am also a very good procrastinator!

I have a son who helps out a lot. A good kid, works hard and always willing to help! Don’t know what I’d do without him! When we talk about tractors we’d always joke that John Deere is the Cadillac of tractors. The green machine is the King we’d say with a laugh more in fun than being serious. Nothing runs like a Deere! we’d say. I hadn’t shared with him what I had found out about David Browns, we just kept jumping on it and doing the chores at hand. He and I had just finished re-painting an old stock trailer and I made the comment “we need to do the tractor next”. He agreed and it became a passing thought for both of us. Every now and then we’d mention it, but that was it.

One day I returned from a trip which had kept me out of town for a few days. As I pulled up the drive I could see something that just didn’t look right. The closer I got to the house the better I could see. Parked right by the house, so I wouldn’t miss it, was a green John Deere tractor. What, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I continued to drive. As I got closer I could see it had fresh paint and nice clean new decals, Yep, John Deere all right! I parked the truck and jumped out to see this machine. My mind is going crazy, where did that come from? Why is it here? Did my son buy it? What’s the deal? As I walked over to it I suddenly realized “That’s not a John Deere, that’s my David Brown! Now my mind is going crazy again, this time not in a questioning way but instead in a way that made me mad! What has happened to my David Brown! It’s GREEN, with John Deere decals! I once again couldn’t believe my eyes! As it turns out my son with his big heart thought he would do something nice for me while I was gone. He bought JD green paint and a set of decals and repainted my tractor as a surprise. A surprise it was all right! Well, there was no doubt that I wasn’t happy! In fact I was mad for days after. Looking back I made a big mistake! I failed to understand at the time the effort and work he had put into re-painting the tractor. I failed to understand how he truly though he was doing something special for me, for dad! So again, Jimmy, I apologize!

About a week passes and my son comes home one night with a gallon of David Brown orchard white paint and all the supplies needed to re-paint the tractor. He said to me “ I want to make it right!” I told him I would pay for the paint and supplies since he had just bought the green paint, but no, he wouldn’t hear of it! Told you he’s a good kid! Time wasn’t on our side, so the paint got put away and we used the imitation John Deere for a few weeks.

I decided it was time to replace those front wheel bearings. I picked up the phone on a Tuesday morning and called the semi-local Case dealer. Asked if he had bearings and seals in stock, of course the answer was no, he would have to order them. I gave him my order and told him I would pick up the parts Saturday. “No problem I’ll have them here” he said. Wanting to get a head start on the job I removed the wheels on Thursday night and proceeded to bang out the seals, bearings and races. Cleaned the hubs real good and sat everything aside. “Good, now I can pick up the parts Saturday morning and have it running again by afternoon” I thought to myself. Saturday morning arrives and I jump in the truck and head out to the semi-local case dealer. Yep, he has the parts all right, well half of them anyway! He misunderstood me and only ordered bearings and seals for one side. Crap! “Can have the other side in a couple days” he said. Nothing I could do now but wait. Can’t use the tractor!

I decided to use this down time to my benefit and fix the list of other things that needed done. Bought a new fuel gauge and installed it, fixed the dash warning lights and a few other things. Then said, "Hey, now is a good time to paint her!” Off comes all the sheet metal, hood, fenders, dash. My son had bought aircraft stripper to remove the now two coats of paint. If you’ve never used the stuff it works great! Leaves nothing but bear metal. Primed the sheet metal and sprayed a fresh coat of orchard white on all the sheet metal. While the paints drying it time to do some other repairs, things are easy to get to now, no sheet metal installed, front end sitting on jacks, yep, go for it.

The small fuel leak around the injector pump seemed like a good target. A line coming out of the lower side of the pump was leaking. This small leak had grown in size, to the point that puddles were forming under the tractor. Better fix that before the place blows up. The leaking point was a simple fitting that screwed on a fitting that screwed into the pump. It appeared to be leaking where the line goes into the fitting. Simple, back off the fitting and see if there is a grommet or something that needs replaced. I started to back off the fitting and about half way off it stopped turning. A little more pressure, pull a little harder and the other fitting started to back out. OK, get either one out and I can deal with the other. Now the fitting is getting harder and harder to turn. It’s not going to beat me so I kept turning and turning till suddenly the fitting comes off the pump. Good, that’s off, opps, off it is! The fitting to the pump now has no threads on it, stripped clean, CRAP! Now What? Called the semi-local case dealer and explained what happened. His response was, “sounds like you need a new pump.” Decided to wait till I got the rest of the front-end parts to deal with this problem. Once the parts came in I put the seals and bearing in and remounted the wheel and tires. Put all the freshly painted sheet metal back on and stood back and looked at a darn good looking tractor. Except she won’t run with out a fuel line. Now the fun starts.

I decide to take her somewhere to have the pump and line fixed. I think all we need to do is replace the fitting and rethread the pump. I load the tractor on the trailer, fun to do when she won’t run and all you have is a come along, but I got her loaded. Decided I’d take her to the Ford place where I bought her. Truck, trailer, tractor and I head up the road. Pull in to the Ford place and find the service guy. He walks out to see what I am talking about and before he gets close enough to see the problem, he stops dead in his tracks. “That’s a David Brown, don’t know a thing about them” he says. I said, “it’s just a leaky pump, here look”. He walks over, looks at the damage I have created and says “think you’ll need to replace the pump, if you want to leave her I can get to it in about two weeks”. No, that’s not what I need and two weeks is out of the question, thanks any way” I say as I head back to the truck. I heard about a little tractor repair shop on the other side of town so I headed over there. Found the place, a small three bay shop in an industrial strip center. Walked in and there sat a variety of tractor’s in all states of repair or disrepair, depends on how you look at it. One of the three mechanics raises up from some engine work he’s doing, covered in grease, sweat dripping from his brow, “can I help you?” he says. I explain my problem as we walk out to look at it. He takes a long hard look at my now smooth fitting and pump and says, “I think I can rethread the pump, replace the fitting and solder the line back in, give me two days”. Great, that’s what I need someone who is willing to take the lowest cost method, not the easiest method. We roll her off the trailer and away I go, happy! The next day the phone rings, “might have to order the feed line, that’s about $120.00” he says. “Do what you need to “ I say. Next day another call. “Was able to solder the line ok, but found another leak on the backside of the pump, will try to fix it today for you”. Next day, now three days into it, phone rings again. “It’s ready to pickup, everything is just fine now, fixed the leak on the back only to find another one, got it taken care of to”. Great, I’ll be there this afternoon to get her. I showed up and there she was, sitting right in the middle of the workshop floor, fresh paint and ready to run. I happily pay the bill that was a lot cheaper than a new pump. I climb on start her up and she purr’s like a kitten. Throw her in gear and carefully make my way through and around the other tractors and parts scattered all over the place, pull her on the trailer, tied her down and with a smile head for the barn. Once home I start her up and unload her. As I pull her in the barn she starts running real bad. Now What! As I look her over I see air bubbles in the sediment bowl. Wonder where that’s coming from? Try tightening the bowl, nope not that. Pull off the hood and find the fuel line was never tightened at the fuel tank. A few quick turns and the air is gone, runs fine now. That evening I start her up and turn on the lights. Funny how when lights don’t work we always try the switch a few times as if was going to make a difference. No lights, now what, worked when I took it in for repair. She simply had blown a fuse, not sure why, but a new one solved the problem. Ok, lets hook up the brush hog and catch up on some mowing. I back up to the hog and try to hook it up. As I do I see that the lift arm between the 3 point and hydraulics as been bent almost to a 90 degree angle. The shop had pushed her around with a forklift, got it caught in there and bent the living crap out of it. Crap, what else can go wrong? I dismantle the arms and take the now very bent piece over to a buddy of mine, he fires up his torch, heats the piece to a nice glowing red and pounds the crap out of it till its straight again. We let it cool as I badmouth the repair shop for causing this problem in the first place. I put the arm back on and now, at last, everything is working just fine again. My David Brown is back, she’s happy and so am I.

I don’t know what it is about tractors that get us hooked. It may be they remind us of simpler times, or maybe it’s the solitude they provide. It could be that even when they aren’t working we know we can get them going again. I don’t know, maybe it’s the sound or the smell. What ever it is it’s a good feeling. I am no tractor pro, that’s for sure, but climbing on and bouncing around, or fixing and repairing, it’s all good times even if we don’t recognize it at the time. Whatever the reason, I now know that I am hooked. My David Brown 780 is looking better all the time and running better to. This tractor will once again look like she did the day she was new. The one thing I do know for sure is, tractor people are a different breed. They work together and share experiences and knowledge. My thanks goes out to all of you who have read this, it is because of you fine people that I can share my experiences, both good and bad. Remember there is a city boy everyday that wishes he could experience the same things we have, and some of them have been lucky enough to do so, just like me!

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